No one should have to witness a co-worker’s death. Imagine witnessing two such deaths in separate incidents just two months apart. A worker who witnessed both deaths was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His employer wanted to deny workers’ comp benefits, saying the statute of limitations ran out.
Steven Ratliff worked for Ameristeel in Tennessee.
In February 2008, a co-worker fell to his death from a platform in the plant. Ratliff was asked to bring a defibrillator to the scene. He saw his co-worker’s body in a pool of blood.
In April 4, 2008, another worker, Jason Blackmon, fell to his death in a different area of the plant. Earlier that day, Ratliff delivered a cake to Blackmon who had bought it from Ratliff’s daughter for a school fundraiser.
When Ratliff learned of Blackmon’s fall, he and several other employees went to the scene. Ratliff saw EMTs trying to revive Blackmon.
Despite being distraught, Ratliff returned to work for several days and declined grief counseling offered by Ameristeel.
In the meantime, Ratliff had previously scheduled surgery on his shoulder. While he was recovering, he had time away from work to think about his two co-workers’ deaths. He started to develop more anxiety about returning to work.
He returned to work in June, but he experienced crying spells, shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat.
On June 23, 2008, Ratliff experienced a crying spell while coaching his daughter’s softball team. His wife took him to the ER where he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Ratliff’s primary care physician treated him for the PTSD. He tried to return to work, but his doctor finally advised him to seek a job elsewhere. The doctor said Ratliff had a 5% permanent impairment from the PTSD, but he didn’t place any restrictions on his activities.
On June 23, 2009, one year after the trip to the ER when the PTSD diagnosis was first made, Ratliff filed a request for a workers’ comp benefit review.
Ameristeel asked that Ratliff’s claim be thrown out, arguing that the one-year statute of limitations had expired. The company said the clock started ticking on the day of the second worker’s death. Ratliff argued the clock started on the day he received his diagnosis.
A trial court agreed with the company and threw out the case. Ratliff appealed and the Tennessee Supreme Court heard the case.
The state’s highest court noted that it had previously ruled that the clock starts when the employee becomes aware of a compensable injury, not when the incident that caused the injury occurred.
Therefore the court found Ratliff was entitled to an award of permanent partial disability benefits of 20% to the body as a whole.
What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the comments below.
(Ameristeel v. Ratliff, TN Supreme Court, No. W2011-00381-SC-R3-WC, 6/7/12)